City Rally Kicks Off Initiative to Support Troops
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ENID, Okla., Apr. 1, 2005 This north-central Oklahoma city has shown for more than 60 years that it supports the men and women of the U.S. military. And it wasn't shy about loudly expressing that support at a rally March 31 in which Enid joined the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program.
A crowd of about 1,300 gathered at Mark Price Arena, formerly known as Convention Hall, for the March 31 rally to launch the partnership between Enid, Okla., and America Supports You. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"Tonight is about one simple message: To all our men and women serving in our armed services ... America Supports You," Enid Mayor Ernie Currier said in welcoming the crowd of nearly 1,300.
The residents of Enid were at Mark Price Arena to officially kick off a first-of-its-kind partnership. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Allison Barber, responsible for DoD's internal communications and community outreach efforts, was on hand to welcome Enid into the America Supports You fold.
Enid is the first town in America to not only partner with America Supports You, but to build a support program for military men and women. "We have gathered today in this arena, originally built as a World War I memorial, to let the rest of the state, the nation and, most importantly, our troops know that we understand our freedom isn't free and Enid supports our troops," Currier said.
Currier said the initiative was also meant to build a real support system for the two military units the city has adopted: the Air Force's 71st Security Forces Squadron from nearby Vance Air Force Base and the Army's 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, from Fort Lewis, Wash. The latter is deployed to Mosul, Iraq.
The crowd frequently stood and cheered the evening speakers' remarks. Presenters all carried messages of thanks for the residents of Enid for their solid support of the troops.
"Thank you for being a leader," Barber said. "You're our first community to join the America Supports You team, and we appreciate it. Thank you for understanding that the morale of our men and women of the military is based on the support they feel from you."
Barber went on to tell of a soldier returning home to Nashville, Tenn., in his uniform. He was afraid he would be spat on, she said.
"I wish I could march that soldier on this stage tonight so he can see. I would like that soldier to see that America doesn't spit on our military," she said. "We support our military."
She added that such organized community support of the military starts in Enid, but that support is going to spread across the country.
Capt. Robert Rossi, 71st SFS commander, took the opportunity to recognize several servicemembers for their role in the global war on terrorism before thanking the crowd.
"My mother taught me one thing, and that was this: Say thank you to people who are nice to you," he said. "And (to) the city of Enid, thank you for all that you do."
Col. Bryan Benson, 71st Flying Training Wing commander at Vance, praised the audience not only for their support, but also for taking the time to do it even though it wasn't a holiday.
"Wow! If you can't get fired up about this, you need to check your pulse," Benson said of the crowd he described as humbling, but not surprising. "Your generosity is enormous but without demand, and your dedication to the people you honor tonight is only surpassed by their commitment to honor you."
He said Enid is defined by its character, and that the rally illustrates that character. "I'm proud of your public commitment to support our airmen and their families," Benson said. "It gives me great comfort as an airman to deploy knowing that my immediate family is being taken care of by my extended family. And all of you, through your actions more than your words, have demonstrated you're more than willing to be our extended families."
The crowd's cheers rose to a fever pitch as Benson told the crowd that Osama bin Laden just didn't get it. When he ordered the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacked, he thought he was attacking the true strength and character of the United States.
"The power is here," he said. "The power is in you. The citizens of Enid, Okla., that I know, kneel to only their God and face their enemies head on.
"Your moral support, your cards and letters, your e-mails, your prayers and your own sacrifices feed the souls of our airmen, our soldiers, our sailors and our Marines as much as they feed yours."
A prime mover behind the evening program was Enid businessman Greg Allen. He said started the ball rolling when he talked with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, while attending a meeting at the Pentagon. The two defense leaders detailed America Supports You, and it seemed a perfect fit, he said.
Allen, chief executive officer of Advance Food Company - Enid's second largest employer after Vance, according to local chamber of commerce data - was enamored with the idea. In fact, Currier, the mayor, said Allen reached at home on a Saturday morning to tell him it was "critical" the city work with America Supports you.
"We've always been a very pro-military community," Currier said. "When Greg came home talking about this issue ... it was just a natural fit for us to jump on board and say, 'Let's don't just do it. Let's be the first to do it. We want to be the folks out front.'"